Amid all the fun and games of the EU referendum campaign, the polls suggest that economic anxiety is growing, along with concern about the government’s economic management. Voters are worried, but they don’t think Labour would do any better.
Economic optimism has fallen to its lowest level since March 2013, and only 18 per cent believe the economy will improve over the next year. Many more are pessimistic. It’s worth noting that this isn’t necessarily a sign of a slump because for most of this century – long before the Crash of 2008, the public were pessimistic about the economy – even though it grew after year after year.
However, it is normally unhelpful news for a government, as economic competence is one of the foundations of political success: in fact ratings of the government’s management of the economy have fallen too, with nearly half (47 per cent) who say the government has done a bad job over the past year (42 per cent are positive). In the run up to the election last March 56 per cent were positive. But Labour and Jeremy Corbyn just aren’t winning any converts as a viable alternative. Despite the falling ratings for the government, the public still do not believe the Labour party or Jeremy Corbyn are ready to replace them any time soon. Sixty-three percent disagree that Labour is ready to form the next government, slightly worse than the rating Labour received in Ed Miliband’s first year in May 2011 – and we know how his time as leader worked out. More still disagree that Corbyn himself is ready to be PM (65 per cent). Even among Labour voters, there are very mixed views, with 46 per cent feeling he is ready against 43 per cent who say he isn’t! So despite ructions between Conservatives over the Referendum and falling personal ratings for David Cameron, whose rating among voters is now his worst since 2013, he still has higher satisfaction ratings in his own divided party than Jeremy Corbyn does among Labour voters. Two in three Conservative supporters say they are satisfied with Cameron compared with 56 per cent of Labour supporters satisfied with Corbyn. Compared to previous Prime Ministers, despite the enemies he has in his own party, Cameron’s ratings are now very similar to those of Tony Blair in 2003, or Mrs Thatcher in 1985 – both went on to win another election with numbers like these.
The sting in the tail of course is that Cameron’s ratings are also similar to John Major’s in 1996! A reminder that strong PMs alone do not guarantee victory. Nevertheless, as he looks at the most recent polls, there is plenty to suggest that provided he wins the Referendum – which betting markets and most pollsters think he will – he has plenty of options open to him.
Ben Page is Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI. Follow him on Twitter: @benatipsosmori